Forty-four Georgia State Law students participated in Alternative Spring Break service trips across the state of Georgia. Four different groups headed out on Sunday, March 12 to begin their week-long dive into housing instability, domestic violence prevention, community economic development, or rural justice.
Housing Instability’s Impact on Kids: This trip, led by third-year law student Zoe Siepert, offered participants an opportunity to learn more about how place-based neighborhood lawyering positively impacts low-income children by stabilizing housing and reducing absenteeism. Law students spent the week with advocates from Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation’s Standing with Our Neighbors Program and the Truancy Intervention Project, working to break the cycle of poverty and improve student outcomes by focusing on the intersection of housing conditions and education.
Students gained an understanding of how a lack of affordable, stable housing increases student transiency and affects classroom performance – and how lawyers can make a difference. Through dispossessory and truancy court observation and visits to Nicholas House and the @Promise Center, this group saw the law in action and how valuable wrap-around services are to clients with legal needs.
Kanesha Weaver, a first-year law student said: “The housing trip was both eye-opening and rewarding, causing my humanity to increase in ways I didn't think there was room for. I feel called to action to participate in ASB every year and to pro bono service for life after law school as well.”
Survivors of Family Violence: Law students on this trip, led by second-year law student Anja Minninger and third-year law student Melinda Nguyen, worked under the supervision of lawyers and advocates from the Victims Legal Assistance Network (VLAN) to learn how to serve families and survivors of domestic violence. With rates of domestic abuse on the rise, understanding how to meet survivors’ legal and social services needs is as critical as ever. Law students participating in this trip visited the Safe Families Office in Fulton County, observed Temporary Protective Order hearings in Cobb County, visited Haven House in McDonough, and volunteered their time at Ask A Lawyer Day in Griffin. They traveled all around the metro area and worked with a number of legal services organizations and social services partners to learn how to empower families and survivors of domestic violence to know their rights and be able to act upon them.
Keely Knudson, a second-year law student who participated in the Family Violence trip, said “This week was an incredibly eye-opening experience into understanding the world of public interest service. Having the opportunity to work along Georgia Legal Services Program, amongst other public interest organizations, taught me just how important visible legal services are and how their accessibility can mean life or death to a person in need.”
Tristan Buckner, a first-year law student participant on the trip agreed that the trip was a powerful experience: “The most valuable thing for me was knowing that I am in the right place. Talking with people that need legal assistance gave me energy. The most valuable part of the trip was getting to meet like-minded people that also enjoy helping others the way I do.”
Community Economic Development in Southeast Georgia: Working with Georgia Legal Services Program and community partners, law students on this trip, led by third-year law student Allie Wagner, spent part of the week in Savannah assisting advocates in their fight for safe housing and preventing the destruction of historic communities. Through conversations with local historians, community advocates, neighborhood residents, and attorneys, students gained an understanding of the state of public housing in Georgia and participated in pre-litigation strategy and narrative building with community members and legal services providers.
Cody Choi, a second-year law student who participated in a trip last year as well, had this to say about the experience in Savannah: “The trip was extremely important in that it reminded us to be conscientious of the rich, generational history that is tied to familial homes and property.”
Rural Access to Justice: Law students on this trip, led by second-year law student El Haynes-Tucker, spent part of the week in “legal deserts” in southwest Georgia, learning about innovative access to justice efforts around the state, including law library self-help centers and remote legal services. Students worked with Georgia Legal Services Program to put on a Town Hall focused on wills and end-of-life documents and were able to directly assist clients with intake and drafting throughout the week. They met with judges and observed court, traveling through several rural counties just as legal services lawyers do in meeting their own clients. The group came away from the week with increased knowledge of the barriers facing rural Georgians and how attorneys can work with community partners to provide access to justice and opportunities out of poverty.
Charlie Boyter, a first-year law student, said, “Alternative Spring Break is by far the best thing I’ve done in law school so far.” Carly Chambers, another first-year law student, agreed: “We don’t have much of a chance to have client-facing interactions in law school, so it was great to be able to do that. I had never really thought about work that I could do in an area like that before. ... Being from a rural area, this trip opened my eyes to a lot of issues and showed me that I could be helping people in a community I recognize.”
Students interested in participating in Alternative Spring Break should plan to attend the information session in January 2024 and submit applications shortly thereafter. Any questions about past or future trips should be directed to Director of Public Interest Programs, Darcy Meals, at [email protected].